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Worldwide, according to Cordell and White, five times more phosphorus is being mined than is being consumed. Stated another way, 15 million tons of phosphorus is mined yearly to grow food, but 80 percent never reaches the dinner table: It is lost to inefficiency and waste.

Farmers use too much fertilizer and it runs off the land, polluting streams, lakes and oceans. Industrial agriculture does not plow crop residues back into the soil after the harvest. In some countries, consumers throw away a third of their food, even when much of it is still edible.

Mature animals, including humans, excrete nearly 100 percent of the phosphorus they consume. But only half of animal manure — the largest organic and renewable source of phosphorus — is being recycled back onto farmland worldwide, studies show. And only 10 percent of what humans excrete is returned to agriculture as sludge or wastewater.

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Without phosphorus, the world cannot grow food. Yet only three countries control 73 percent of the world’s remaining known reserves of phosphate rock. By contrast, the 13 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries control 75 percent of known oil reserves.

The U.S. now has only a 25-year supply left of phosphate rock, most of it is in Florida and North Carolina, studies show. China has the largest reserves — 27 percent of the total — but has clamped down on exports with a steep tariff. Morocco is occupying the Western Sahara and its reserves and is exporting them to the U.S, even as the U.N. condemns the trade.

Africa is now both the largest exporter of phosphate rock and the continent with the worst food shortages.

“We’re calling this the biggest problem no one’s heard of,” said James Elser, an Arizona State University ecologist who recently co-founded the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative, a new research group on campus. (Arizona State will send representatives to the conference in Sweden this month, and next year, the university plans to host the second international summit on phosphorus.)

“The scope and urgency of the time scale need to be narrowed down,” Elser said. “I don’t think we have a really good consensus about the peak. Is this really an acute problem in 30 years? If this is true, then the human consequences are much more acute than anything we’ve seen with climate change, in terms of hunger. Food is food. We can’t live without it.”

The rest is here.
 

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This thread would really be helped with a price graph.

I cant find one right now, but I know the price of phosphate fertilizer trippled in a year not that long ago, and has only gone down a bit since.

I'm sure other farmers will testify that their fertilizer price has shot through the roof in the last 5 years.

*edit*
This link contains the price up untill March 08: http://phosphorusfutures.net/why-phosphorus

and it didnt tripple, it went from $50 - $350 per tonne. That is a big big increase.

I'm pretty sure its come down since, i'll keep looking for recent data

*edit 2*
Yes, that price spike was a spike, it has come down a lot, I cant find a good detailed graph, but it looks to be sitting at about twice the price that it was pre-spike.
 

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I'm supposing the phosphorous went somewhere. It didn't just evaporate. It's an element so it can't be broken down chemically like oil can. So I suppose when easy phosphorous gets scarce, methods to extract or recycle phosphorous will come into popular use.
 

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I'm supposing the phosphorous went somewhere. It didn't just evaporate. It's an element so it can't be broken down chemically like oil can. So I suppose when easy phosphorous gets scarce, methods to extract or recycle phosphorous will come into popular use.
I expect/hope so yes.

I think it gets washed into the sea mostly, causing all kinds of environmental "dead zones".

I did do some research on it a while ago, and then stopped, for some reason, probably cos the price came back down again so I could stop stressing so much.
 

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I expect/hope so yes.

I think it gets washed into the sea mostly, causing all kinds of environmental "dead zones".

I did do some research on it a while ago, and then stopped, for some reason, probably cos the price came back down again so I could stop stressing so much.
Okay, explain this - If phosphorous is needed to grow crops and is a great fertilizer - how is it causing dead zones in the ocean? Wouldn't it help marine plants grow just as well?? Which in turn absorb Carbon dioxide and create oxygen.

Is it a matter of concentrations being too high? Why isn't it having the same affect on rivers then? Our rivers are not dead zones, most of them are doing quite nicely. At least they are around me and there are plenty of farms in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
 

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Okay, explain this - If phosphorous is needed to grow crops and is a great fertilizer - how is it causing dead zones in the ocean? Wouldn't it help marine plants grow just as well?? Which in turn absorb Carbon dioxide and create oxygen.

Is it a matter of concentrations being too high? Why isn't it having the same affect on rivers then? Our rivers are not dead zones, most of them are doing quite nicely. At least they are around me and there are plenty of farms in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
SHort answer: Phosphorous can cause algae blooms. Algae is relatively short-lived and when they die, they sink and rot. The decay process consumes oxygen and causes the water below a certain point to become unable to support life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom
 

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that, and I think it affects the PH balance too....
IT does. Salt water aquarium enthusiasts have the toughest time stabilizing pH when trying to make a complete ecosystem. Too much plant life versus biological bacteria.


A very good post.

I see in the next 20 years another recycling bin. Compostables. I am already seeing "trash police" enforcement officers is suburban NY. They dump your garbage in a can and check to see if your recycling or not. Might even have two different waste waters too. Too many folks on one piece of turf.
 

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Phosphorus us also used in fluorescent light bulbs. the electricity passing through the ionized gas in the tube releases short wavelength ultraviolet photons (non visible) which are absorbed by the phosphorus and re-emitted as longer wavelength photons (visible light).

That's what the powder in a fluorescent light comes from. Plus be careful of the older types which use a small amount of mercury to produce the ionized gas in the lamp.

Just FYI.
 

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The U.S. now has only a 25-year supply left of phosphate rock, most of it is in Florida and North Carolina, studies show.
Uh, where's the problem??? 25 years??? Do you seriously think anyone is going to be mining phosphorus in 25 years? Do you think civilization is going to exist at that time? If you do, my friend, you ARE an optimist.

Personally, I keep a minimum of three years worth of commercial fertilizer on hand for my agricultural needs. If civilization falls, if I make three years, I'll live for another twenty, and by then, can convert to organic fertilizers... or at least my slaves can.:rolleyes:

Reckon I should buy an extra two years and put in rotation.
 

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The first thing that needs to happen is for the government to decide poo is not a toxic waste. It needs to be composted back into the fields. They treat animal waste like it is plutonium.
That's what I was thinking. Wouldn't the phosphorus/fertilizer/food shortage problem be solved if a majority of people just raised one type of animal and grew their own vegetables?

I just got done shoveling about 75 pounds of chicken poo from the coop and putting it into the compost pile, so the solution seems obvious to me right now...
 

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Excellent thread. As I was waiting for a minor car repair (which I did not have the tools to do myself...<sigh>), I got into a conversation with a lady who keeps horses and cows about the garden. She offered me all the animal poo I could haul for the garden. (Too bad she lives about thirty miles from here, or I'd have taken her up on it.)

IMHO, the world has become way too dependent on processed fertilizers when simple redistribution of "ole timey" fertilizers would rehabilitate poor soil and lessen the stress on the entire environment. Essentially, composting rocks. :thumb:
 

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lol how many of you will shovel fertilizer over 500 acres :p You guys are thinking small, backyard composting isn't going to help anything :p
Actually they do. When they raise hogs and cattle in large scale buildings, the accumulate a whole lot of crap. These buildings are designed with massive internal water channels and outside holding ponds. When the crap has broken down, they pump the liquid out of the pond and spread on their crops using irrigation pipe. Most of the time, they spread it on next years corn ground.

Now you know how I paid for 4 years of Engineering School and why I was so motivated to get my degree.
 

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We'd probably be better off if we figured out how to grow healthy food without depending on dumping loads of fertilizers all over it. Food production should be sustainable, ie, locally self sufficient. Whatever you deplete from the soil, phosphorus, and all the other minerals, should be replaced, either with composting, or rock dust, or something similar.
 
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